Saturday, September 27, 2003

Big off-field changes coming in college football

The Tennessean

What is happening off the field in college football could turn out to be more intriguing than what transpires between the lines this season.

No, we're not talking about Florida State's Chris Rix and his attempt to quarterback sneak into unauthorized parking spaces on campus.

We're talking changing the landscape as we know it today.

The ACC's summer raid that plucked Miami and Virginia Tech from the ranks of the Big East started the ball rolling.

It gave the ACC 11 members. The league petitioned the NCAA to allow it to have a championship game in football despite the rule that requires a minimum of 12 teams.

Two NCAA committees have already turned thumbs down on the petition and it is not expected to come out favorable for the ACC.

Thus, the hunt for No. 12.

All ACC eyes turned Irish, as in Notre Dame.

Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese could have warned the ACC to save its breath. He has issued a standing invitation for Notre Dame to join the Big East in football. Fat chance. Even though the Irish belong to the Big East in all other sports, they are autonomous in football.

Notre Dame is the only football program in the country that has enough power and support to stand alone. It has its own lucrative television contract and doesn't have to share.

So all this perceived plan that would have Notre Dame's football program joining the ACC in incremental stages is silly.

Other conferences have felt the fallout. When Big East presidents meet Nov. 4, they are expected to invite Louisville and Cincinnati to play all sports and take in DePaul and Marquette as non-football playing members.

The Big East would then have eight schools playing both football and basketball, eight playing basketball and divide into East and West Divisions. There is a longshot possibility they could soar to 16 teams in basketball and eight in football.

Conference USA is expected to train its sights on SMU and Rice, giving them four Texas schools and a better fit for SMU and Rice. If not Rice, look for Central Florida to fit in somewhere.

This is all centered around big time football and the BCS.

I don't know how long it will take, probably no longer than 10 years, but the day will come when current BCS conferences split away from the others in some form or fashion.

The top six conferences will be involved in the BCS, or more likely, a playoff system. I can see them breaking away from the NCAA and generating enough revenue through television contracts and possible stipends from the NFL to pay football players while they are in school.

What does that mean for the Vanderbilts of the world? They will either have to get in, or get out. Although a charter member, Vanderbilt could be forced to leave the SEC and be replaced by a school that places more emphasis on football.

Make no mistake. The model 10 years from now will not look the same. Only the strong will survive. Other schools will be left behind to find, or create, their particular niche.

It's coming. Be forewarned.

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